Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"Sorry Mate, You're Probably a Bit Too Fat to Be Able to Do Any of These": Men's Experiences of Weight Stigma

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"Sorry Mate, You're Probably a Bit Too Fat to Be Able to Do Any of These": Men's Experiences of Weight Stigma

Article excerpt

The negative attitudes some people hold toward overweight/obese persons (i.e., anti-fat bias) often translate into the social disapproval of big1 bodies (i.e., weight stigma) when thought to violate what is considered to be an acceptable physique (Lieberman, Tybur & Latner, 2012). This mistreatment often entails a negative dynamic between the individual and society that results in a deleterious cognitive set (Ogden & Clementi, 2010). Hence, stigmatised individuals are more vulnerable to depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, lower mood and increased self-criticism (e.g., Bombak, 2014; Puhl & Heuer, 2009, 2010). An insufficient understanding of how people experience weight stigma may explain the inadequacy of interventions to reduce stigma. As a result, after 30 years anti-fat bias still re- mains "the last socially acceptable form of prejudice" (Stunkard et al., 1986). Worse, the prevalence of weight stigma has increased by 66% in the last decade (O'Brien, Latner, Ebneter & Hunter, 2012).

These undesirable outcomes may be driven by the inconclusive evidence that characterises many studies on weight stigma (Carels et al., 2009; Monaghan & Hardey, 2009; Puhl & Heurer, 2009, 2010). These are often cross-sectional, quantitative, and-problematically for males-are dominated by female samples (Monaghan & Hardey, 2009; Puhl & Heuer, 2009). Although stigma may trigger dieting among men or figure in their accounts of engaging in a weight-loss diet (Monaghan, 2008), fear of discrimination may also explain men's anxieties to attend structured weight loss interventions (Pringle et al., 2014). This is important because "big" men have traditionally been "hard-to-engage" (HTE) or "reluctant" to attend health improvement, especially weight loss, interventions, where men, indeed, remain underrepresented (Gray et al., 2013; Pringle et al., 2014). Given the prevalence of excess weight in males, and the role weight stigma may play as an inhibitor or facilitator to men's engagement in weight loss, it is surprising that so few studies account for the complex experiences of weight discrimination affecting men (Roehling, 2012).

Hence, more qualitative studies are needed to explore how men interpret and make sense of their complex experiences of weight stigma (Lewis et al., 2011). Understanding this complexity can inform practice in a variety of ways. According to Sparkes and Smith (2014), qualitative findings can influence policy development and implementation of stigma-reducing interventions. Qualitative research methods may reveal "how things work in particular contexts" (Mason, 2002, p. 1), thus informing intervention programmes and offering a chance to make a difference to how practitioners work with HTE men. In practical terms, qualitative research may contribute to social justice by empowering stigmatised men (Sparkes & Smith, 2014, p. 241). This present study engages a qualitative research design to explore the complexity of men's experiences of weight discrimination and the ways how these may inform practice.


This study is part of a larger research exploring men's experiences of body weight before, during, and after attending a weight management programme (WMP).


Following ethical clearance, participants were recruited from a 12-week, free of charge, men-only WMP in North West, UK. The programme aims to help men lose 5% of their body weight within 12 weeks through exercise sessions and education on healthy lifestyles. The WMP was made gender-sensitive (a) by context: the sessions took place in a sports setting; (b) through content: information about the science of weight loss presented simply and practically; and (c) in the style of delivery: it was both participative and peer-supported (Gray et al., 2013).


For the purposes of the larger study, one hundred men attending the WMP completed a screening questionnaire on socio demographics, health behaviours, social support, and experiences of weight stigma. …

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